EROS by Bruce S. Thornton


The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality
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 A potentially interesting study of ancient Greek sexuality sinks in the rough seas of antifeminist diatribe. At first Thornton (Classics/Calif. State Univ., Fresno) is merely pedantic, offering a welter of examples to support his point that the Greeks believed eros, or sexual desire, was a powerful, dangerous force of nature. He becomes almost interesting in noting that our sentimental ``dead metaphors'' of love as fire, disease, and insanity originated in vivid Greek images (and fears) of the destructive power of eros. However, once Thornton starts trying to show that Greek hatred of women was an expression of a legitimate fear of eros, he reveals himself to be less an objective scholar than an apologist for Greek misogyny. He snipes at the ``cheap moral superiority'' of ``our smug twentieth century'' in refusing to recognize that ``the power of women was the power of eros.'' His arguments would be offensive were they not so silly: In proposing Marilyn Monroe as the image of the ``sexually powerful woman'' in opposition to the models in Victoria's Secret catalogs with their ``boyish hips,'' he seems to be elevating a personal preference into an intellectual analysis of sexual imagery in the late 20th century. After similarly confused explorations of Greek marriage, homosexuality, and philosophy, Thornton concludes that the Greeks were wiser than we in distrusting eros and trying to control it through such rational institutions as patriarchy. With a breathtaking lack of supporting material, he asserts that our deviation from their ideas about sex is responsible for contemporary ``illegitimacy . . . crime, random violence, poverty, and social barbarism.'' This book loses sight of its valid points in a fumbling attempt to imitate the contrarian Camille Paglia (whom Thornton cites as a ``model''). And when he fingers eros as the true culprit in Susan Smith's drowning of her two children, he leaves the reader wondering whether he, and his Greeks, are incapable of attributing to women other passions (e.g., maternal) than sexual ones.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-8133-3225-7
Page count: 336pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1996